NATO General Secretary George Robertson was in Moscow on Monday to discuss, among other things, Russian-NATO relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeiev made a formal offer for a collaborative effort to Robertson on European defence in the form of a European missile defence system.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote a short item on 20 February with the headline "Russia suggests a NATO-European Missile Defence System." This item points out that after the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, Russia did not look upon NATO fondly, to say the least. It would appear that only now, facing the possibility of the US National Missile Defence (NMD) system, Russia is seeking military alliances elsewhere. They claim, as reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, that these alliances are "non-strategic," in the words of Defence Minister Sergeiev. He said, "We look upon our future relations [with NATO] optimistically."
"Putin's Worries" was, however, the headline in an article on the same topic in Der Tagesspiegel on 21 February. Putin himself apparently said that his two greatest concerns lie with the expansion of NATO to the Baltic States and, secondly, the new plans for the NMD. The subheading of Der Tagesspiegel article poses the question of whether Moscow would be more willing to accept the enlargement of NATO if the Americans forgo the NMD.
Russians running scared
It is clear from the German press this week that the combined threats of an enlarged NATO and a US NMD do indeed scare the Russians, hence their idea to accept one but not both. Nonetheless, the headline in Der Tagesspiegel of 20 February read, "Enlargement of NATO to the East represents no threat to Russia." The article reports that NATO General Secretary Robertson said before his trip to Moscow that "expansion of NATO is not the expansion of an opposing military union, as so many in Russia perceive it to be, but rather the expansion of new elements in European security."
The question of whether Russia is included in this new European security is one that goes unanswered in the article, which ends somewhat inconclusively by saying that Russia opposes the entry of the Baltic States into NATO. But still, they repeat, this is not because they are threatened by any kind of NATO enlargement—oh no.
Whether or not Russia could possibly be included in the new Europe is the question on everyone's tongue—and so Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote about this on 21 February under the headline "Less would be More." In the article, a number of issues in EU-Russian relations are pointed out, the most important one being that of Kaliningrad, the soon-to-be Russian enclave in the midst of a greater European Union.
The article also quotes Boris Yeltsin, who apparently said that "Europe is only half as strong as it could be, Russia is only half as strong as it could be, but together they are stronger than all the rest." The article points out that to Russia only power is important and that in this regard nothing has changed since the days of Boris Yeltsin, while Russians regard themselves as a central and influential power.
The author of this article, Jasper von Altenbockum, writes that present-day EU members see the issue much differently. In their eyes, Russia is undergoing a slow learning-process, and has a long way to travel still before it could be considered a partner in the EU. All talk of "co-operation instead of confrontation" is just that, von Altenbockum writes: talk—until some visible changes are made in Russia.
A test case
Von Altenbockum sees the issue of Kaliningrad as a test case for co-operation between Russia and the EU—a test case, the author points out, that has not gone completely problem-free. While the Western powers and the foreign minister of the EU show understanding, this had been returned by "maximum demands" in the Kremlin. For this reason does von Altenbockum say that "one would like to almost say that less Russian would be more."
And indeed, that wish may be granted, as Die Welt on 21 February reported on the diminishing interest of Russians in their own military under the headline "Russia's army will be missing successors." Here it is reported that in the last three years alone, 102 Russian military academies have been closed. In essence, the article reports that the Russian military can no longer compete and that nothing has shown this better than the war in Chechnya. Seeking other alliances, it appears, may be the only thing that Russians can do.
Poles too, are seeking their alliances, largely against Russia, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 23 February reported on the Polish response to the American National Missile Defence system. Poland's Defence Minister, Bronisław Komorowski, said that this new system should remain firmly under the control of NATO and that the powers of NATO must not be weakened or inhibited. Polish opposition to the National Missile Defence (NMD) stems not from its existence or the idea itself, but it could possibly create a two-tiered NATO, those powers who are protected by the system and those who are not.
Odds and ends...
Also reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung this week was Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman's response to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's suggestion that there be a seven year period before Czechs could be completely integrated into the work market in the expanded EU. Prime Minister Zeman spoke of Schröder as his good friend, but it is clear that the Frankfurter Allgemeine does not consider the Czech as such.
They write shortly thereafter of Zeman's early retirement at the age of 56. Zeman considers his role in politics to have been as tiring and wearing as that of the "pilot of a düsenmaschine [jet aircraft] who can enter retirement at the age of 35." Poor Zeman has been forced to work all the way to the ripe old age of 56, and this is the tone in which the Frankfurter Allgemeine reports the item.
Increasing tension in south Serbia, including the death of three Serbian policemen in that region, were also reported early in the week in Die Tageszeitung, Der Tagesspiegel, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. However, Russian relations with the rest of Central Eastern Europe took the lion's share of the press in Germany this week.
Andrea Mrozek, 23 February 2001
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Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Die Süddeutsche Zeitung